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Returning Player Refresher: Tavion Thomas

Thomas will compete for playing time in the backfield after serving as the primary backup at running back last season.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

With Michael Warren running wild through the American Athletic Conference last season, there wasn’t a ton of opportunity for other running backs on the roster of the Cincinnati Bearcats to show their stuff. That didn’t stop true freshman Tavion Thomas, who was the only Bearcat running back besides Warren to earn a start during the 2018 campaign. With Warren given a bit of a breather in the regular season finale against East Carolina, Thomas took advantage of his first starting gig, rushing for 106 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 26 carries. You’ll notice that I didn’t characterize those 106 yards as a career-high and that right there should tell you everything you need to know about how good Thomas is and how good the Bearcats are at running back considering they also have Warren, Charles McClelland and Gerrid Doaks on the roster.

Thomas’ personal best in rushing yards as a true freshman came against Alabama A&M when he racked up 141 yards on 18 carries. He also threw in two touchdowns for good measure and showed that he could compete for more chances as the season continued. It was quite the illuminating effort considering he had been given only one carry in the first two games of the season.

As Warren’s primary backup, Thomas reached a double-digit carry total five times during the season and that doesn’t including an eight-carry effort against Tulane. He tallied at least 50 yards five times and nearly made it six times when he produced 46 yards on 11 attempts against Navy. In total, he rushed for 499 yards on 89 attempts, ranking third on the team in both categories and second among running backs. He also averaged 5.6 yards per carry which was only bested by fellow freshman McClelland among players with at least 10 carries on the campaign. Along the way he found the end zone six times, which was the third-highest total on the team behind Warren and Kahlil Lewis.

For all his work running the ball, Thomas did not factor into the passing game that much. While Warren and McClelland were not targeted at excessive rates by any means, they each got involved much more frequently through the air, with Thomas only securing one reception all season. As he competes for playing time this fall, we’ll see if the Bearcats continue to use him as a downhill runner only or if they incorporate him into the passing game a bit more.

Thomas was technically able to pack all that production into 10 total appearances. However, it was in six games that he really made an impact, as he did not play against UCLA, Ohio or USF, did not record a carry against Temple and SMU and was featured rather sparingly against Miami-Ohio and in the the Military Bowl against Virginia Tech when he tallied nine yards on three carries. Considering the more limited role he played, what he was able to accomplish was even more impressive. With the embarrassment of riches the Bearcats have in the backfield this season, Thomas will have to continue to impress to stay on the field. A few more games like the one he had against East Carolina should do the trick.